Remarkable Port Huron Longfellow Steam Traction Engine

The authentic history of a very special steam traction engine: the Port Huron Longfellow

24-75 Port Huron No. 7948 just after I got it home in March 1920

24-75 Port Huron No. 7948 just after I got it home in March 1920.

Photo by LeRoy W. Blaker

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I am writing this authentic history of a steam traction engine that I believe very few engines can equal. This engine is a 24-75 HP Port Huron "Longfellow" serial No. 7948. I have a copy of the construction record that is on file at Port Huron, and it shows the boiler was finished and ready for testing at 8:00 a.m. February 8, 1917. A water test of 275 PSI was given by Isadore Gardner and okayed by D. J. McPhee, also a steam test of 100 lbs. No doubt this boiler was filled with steam from the plant's boiler to see if there were any leaks. I am sure it was not internally fired before it went to the engine erecting room.

After erecting, it went to the engine testing room at 10:30 a.m. February 13th, and after 35 man hours, including helpers, it was delivered to the painters at 2:30 p.m. on February 15th. The test house record shows the engine developed 75 HP at 220 RPM with 175 PSI. It also shows the boiler capacity fully equals the engine and it worked dry steam.

This engine was sold and shipped to C. J. Snyder and Son. Road Contractors of Ann Arbor, Michigan, on August 29, 1917. This engine was used to pull a loading-excavator for putting up a large road grade just to the northwest of Ann Arbor. I was told by one of the men who helped with the engine that they would throw the clutch out after filling a dump wagon that was pulled by a team of mules, and let the engine run idle until the next dump wagon drove up to be filled, then the clutch was engaged to start the engine in the traction. This engine's list price at that time was $3,750.00 and $200.00 extra for the 26" wide drive wheels which were the 32-100 HP size.

It has an Ohio Std. Boiler, the construction record is on file with the Industrial Commission at Columbus, Ohio. It shows this boiler had a mathematical bursting pressure of 1102 PSI, or a factor of safety of 6.3 to 1, or by using the standard 5 to 1 safety factor, it could safely carry 220 PSI.

After the road contractor finished with this engine he wanted to sell it. It stood idle part of the year 1918 and looked pretty tough. The bull pinions, main pinion and intermediate gear were worn out, draw bar broken in the middle and the engine was covered with dirt. Jim Stevens, of the Advance-Rumely Company, looked at it and told the road contractor it was not in very good condition to sell. Albert Hoxiethe Port Huron agent at Adrian, Michigan heard about it and bought it for $1500.00. He cleaned it up and sold it to Gil Furman of Sand Creek in 1919 for his use threshing, silo filling, and running a corn husker-shredder.

Now here is where I come inon March 11, 1920 I bought this engine and a 36/58" Greyhound grain thresher from the Advance-Rumely Company, and they sold a new Oil Pull complete outfit to Mr. Furman.

When I fired the engine up to move the outfit home a distance of about 20 miles, I noticed the crankshaft was sprung and the crank disc ran about 1/4" out of true, also the crank pin was rough and scored. I got along with it until February 1921 at which time I sent the crank disc over to Port Huron, and had a new crankshaft and crank pin installed.

Soon after buying this engine I realized this boiler should have a jacket, so I spent a week putting on a new jacket in June 1920. Also put new pinions and intermediate gear on it, and platform.

Besides the regular work of running the grain thresher on a large run, silo filler and corn husker-shredder, it furnished the power to saw one million feet of mostly hardwood lumber the first four years I owned it. We carried 190 lbs. working pressure on it and the reverse lever was hooked in the next to the corner notch for economical reasons. Have had many old sawmill men watch it while running and they told me they never saw an engine have the "wind" that it had when sawing large logs.

In the spring of 1923 when I had it on a 225,000 foot job of sawing mostly hard or sugar maple, I equipped it with a two-inch Pickering governor.

It was pulling a No. 3 Enterprise sawmill with 56" saw, sawdust blower, two saw edger and slab saw. My job was firing the engine helping unload the lumber truck, and throwing away the slab wood from the slab saw. I was a busy man but I liked it. We estimated we had 200 cords of slab wood besides what the engine used.

By 1922 I had three complete Port Huron steam outfits in the field. Each 33/54" Rusher thresher, was equipped with a Garden City feeder and a Wild Cat agitator in the best one.

In 1924 when some of my help were moving from one job to another with the above mentioned engine, they had to go down a long steep hill two miles north of Hudson, Michigan, known as "Ames Hill" and had gotten to the next job, the countershaft broke letting the heavy differential gear drop to the ground. How lucky it did not break going down that hill with the thresher pushing the engine all the way. Examination of the broken countershaft showed it had been partially fractured for some time, due no doubt to the rough treatment it had when new.

The first year I owned this engine (1920), a fellow thresherman wanted me to pull his big 21 inch Rosenthal cylinder cut silo filler to fill about 20 silos in the fall. Cramer Bros., two other fellow thresher men who owned a 30-60 model "E" Oil Pull, told me they were a SOB to pull and their tractor could not run it satisfactorily. The "Longfellow" steamer kept it right up to speed with two wagons unloading at the same time, and four men throwing bundles of corn in the filler at times. On Moore Bros. 14 by 58 foot silo (the largest in the country) at times my engineer would have to drop the reverse lever down in the corner notch.

About the time this engine was built, the builders were putting sheet iron shields in the crank-discs as the photo will show. I was told someone had gotten their hand injured, when the engine was running, by getting it caught between the connecting rod and crank-disc.

Up until about 1915 the company had been paying the Woolf Valve Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota, $25.00 royalty on every Woolf compound engine they built. About that time the patent expired, no more royalty was paid and the nameplate on the low pressure cylinder read, "PORT HURON LONGFELLOW HIGH PRESSURE COMPOUND."

In 1934 it was equipped with a Port Huron cross-head pump to feed the boiler. Before the engine was used for threshing the next year, I instructed my engineer Clarence Kelley how to use it, but told him if he didn't like to hear the click of the pump valves to loosen the plunger packing and feed the boiler with one of the injectors. Several days later I asked him how he liked it; he replied, "It was a steady economical way to feed a boiler and the click of the pump valves is just music to my ears."

Besides about 150 days of road work when it was new, it has furnished the power to thresh one million bushels of grain, fill 200 silos, run a corn husker-shredder about 100 days, run a clover huller some and saw 3,000,000 feet if lumber.

The last threshing it did was in 1945, but it has been used every year about 50 days in the covered sawmill. It has had its third set of boiler tubes, runs good and is an easy steamer.